“Hi! How are you?”, “I’m fine…” End of conversation. This type of exchange is very common, but has become entirely ineffective when it comes to actually getting to know and understand how someone is feeling. The greeting, “How are you?” has essentially become a closed ended (yes or no) question and leaves it entirely up to the person asking the question to decide how positive or negative we are feeling.
A new Yale study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology revealed that adults believe that males are in more pain than females. Although this study focused on physical pain, the same concepts can be applied to emotional experiences as well.
So how do we teach our children—boys and girls—to express their feelings effectively, and how do we express our own feelings in a way that will allow us to be heard and understood by others?
1) Honesty is the best policy—Hiding our feelings and waiting for others to ask about what we are feeling or experiencing is not an effective strategy. Because of this, it is best to be open and honest about our feelings or experiences. If someone important to you asks, “How’s it going?” Instead of replying with the casual, “I’m fine,” be honest and specific by saying, “I’m really struggling today,” or “Today has been a really nice day.” Sharing our feelings shouldn’t be reserved for when we are really happy or really sad, we should be honest at all times—both about the good and the bad.
2) Teach others what you need—Being honest about your feelings but not getting the desired response? People can’t read minds. Identify what type of response you need from someone and respectfully ask for that outcome. For example, “Hey, I’m feeling really stressed out, can you problem solve with me?” Or, “I just really need a listening ear and for you to tell me everything’s okay.” No matter what it is that we need, it is always best to express that openly to another person, that way we get the response that we need, and we don’t leave others feeling confused as to what type of response we are looking for.
3) Ask questions and teach others to do the same—Create a dynamic of open and honest communication by asking others more specific questions about their feelings and experiences. “What has been the best part of your day?”, “What have you been struggling with today?”, “What do you feel like you need (from me or others) to make today better?”. These and other questions are much more specific and effective than the general question of, “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” Similarly, asking these more specific questions allows us to have this type of dynamic in our relationships. At best, it teaches others to ask these types of questions to us in return, and at the least, it presents the opportunity for us to respond to other’s answers about the best or most difficult part of their day with our response to these questions. Either way, it’s a win-win and everyone gets their feelings heard.
For more resources and information on how to get your feelings heard and how to live a healthier emotional life, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!